“Service not self”- relevant, transferable, powerful

We have recently celebrated the 75th Anniversary of D Day and the sacrifice of those involved which enabled us to live in free and democratic nations. We also regularly acknowledge the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in conflicts then and since on annual memorial or remembrance days. But how we deal with those who have served and survived is more complex. As an ex Army Officer who has worked in both the commercial and public sector the positive and strong sense of general appreciation expressed to those who have served is appreciated by us all. However if that does not then lead onto specific actions which build understanding of where those have served have come from, where they want to get to and provides them with help getting there it’s mere words.

The growth of Military Covenant or similar programmes where organisations undertake to give former serving personnel the same opportunities as their civilian counterparts is a strong statement of intent on paper. But these initiatives are unlikely to deliver their potential benefit without there being a true understanding of the strong business case for employing ex service personnel. Unless organisations already have ex service people in them together with those hiring personally know the benefits they can bring then it is unlikely the support for, and employment of, those who have served will be optimised. It’s possible for an organisation to be committed to supporting those who have served but, because of a lack of real understanding of their value, many hiring managers consider their inclusion in recruitment more of a moral requirement than a real business driven one.  

To help organisational senior leaders and those in HR hiring people start to understand this strong business case for employing ex service personnel here are a few key points why their significant talents add real value to any organisation.

First the assumption that the military is a command and control driven organisation is false. Modern warfare requires the cascade of decision making capability to the lowest possible level to respond to minute by minute events on the ground to change operational delivery tactics but maintain alignment to strategic objectives. Thus in the services levels of responsibility are much higher, in particular at lower levels, than in comparable sized commercial organisations. Add to that the context within which those responsibilities are exercised is more challenging and this creates a large number of people under 30 with who have delivered success and held significantly more responsibility than their civilian counterparts.

To be successful with such responsibility ex service personnel are highly trained in effective task management, including prioritisation, time management, delegation, communication and giving feedback. This is a capability lacking in a majority of civilian leaders. They are also highly focused on delivering objectives with determination but with the ability to adapt when required to ensure successful delivery.   

Second the assumption that if you get something wrong in the military you are in serious trouble, again false. There is specific direction that mistakes must be viewed bearing in mind the knowledge and capability of the individual in the situation at that time and whether the action was well intended. This is in contrast to the blame culture that exists in many commercial organisations. So ex service personnel will be prepared to innovate and take risks to find a solution to get things done rather than stick to legacy thinking and take no risks. This flexible and innovative mindset is key for success in the current dynamic organisational and market environment, especially for those in leadership roles.

Third the strong team work and loyalty that exists within the military creates a “we not me” mindset which contrasts with the “me not we” culture of much of the commercial world. This means ex service personnel coming into any organisation bring that powerful ethos with them which boosts team working through them leading by example and inspiring others to work in partnership with them and colleagues.

Fourth they come from a world where professionalism, trust and mutual respect is everything. If you are prepared to risk your life for your colleagues then you only do that when that professionalism, trust and mutual respect is total. These three are a critical foundation for an effective, inspired and resilient team in any organisation.

But ex service personnel do have two weaknesses; first that the trust, integrity and professionalism that is the very basis of their self belief might be what the military world lives by but not always the civilian world. The first time they are effectively betrayed by a colleague who breaks trust for their own benefit is a moment all ex service people remember and can be deeply shocking. However, as you would expect, they will then rise above the lack of integrity from one colleague and go up a gear to deepen trust with others to make the team even more effective. 

Second, based on their “we not me” ethos they will speak out when their see things going wrong or which could be improved. That’s what they are trained to do. In their former world it stops people being killed. But this openness and frankness in the business world is often counter cultural even if beneficial to the organisation and what the organisations values state everyone should be doing.  

Ex service personnel have given their best for us, we should give our best for them in actions as well as words.

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